Boston’s South End: Burying grounds, Boston College, and my apartment

My Neatline exhibit is about my neighborhood.

Coming from Chicago, a relatively new city (most of it burned down in 1871, thanks Mrs. O’Leary!), I am continually frustrated and amazed by the City of Boston. On the one hand, the maddeningly labyrinthine streets, lack of alleys, and apparent total disregard for the fine art of city planning make it a difficult place to live at times. There is nothing like the smell of garbage baking on the picturesque brick sidewalks of Massachusetts Ave. on a humid August morning. On the other hand, I live in a (delightfully shabby) Victorian brownstone that is older than my previous city! And I constantly pass things that are older than the United States. Crazy! And inspiring, and weird, and creepy at times (I’m looking at you, Old South Burying Ground).

I decided for my Neatline map that I try to represent a few interesting historical spaces that I encounter on a regular basis.

This foray into Neatline (though not technically my first) aimed to both explore possibilities and make an argument. I tried to choose spaces and artifacts that overlapped in some way to provide a narrative of the historic space of the South End and its distinct eras–from the era of “across the neck,” the landfill projects of the South and Back bays, becoming the jazz hub of the New England, the tumultuous 70’s and 80’s, the era of the elevated train coming to an end, to the (ongoing) gentrification in the 80’s and 90’s. The South End remains an eclectic neighborhood, host to Boston’s primary trauma hospital (across from my apartment!) as well as the swanky restaurants and dog bakeries (seriously) of Tremont St. We still have boarded-up beauties like the Hotel Alexandria on Washington St. And we have the thriving SOWA art galleries. And this is only the stuff I know about and the little things I’ve noticed. There is so much more to be explored here.

Though this exhibit is just kind of an initial thrust, I would love to expand on it to a more thematic exhibit based around the eras I identified through my (cursory) research. Obviously these eras overlap, which is where I think the interesting bits would show up. What are some historical artifacts from the era when part of the (mostly African American) South End was also the primary gay and lesbian neighborhood in Boston? I think archival research in this case would be greatly bolstered by my actually physically going to see and explore some places. Huh. Who would have thought a map could influence the way I move around my environment?

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